In one of my earlier posts about the course on postmodernism I already made a reference to the way Ceglowski struggles with her power as a researcher. At that moment I did not yet completely understand what she meant with it, but now I’ve read some other texts, I thought it would be useful to come back to it.
As argued before, a relational constructionist would argue that we cannot make a clear distinction between the self and the other by arguing for instance that the researcher as subject needs to be completely separated from the object he studies to make sure that he gives an objective representation of reality. This type of subject-object relation would also hold a certain power relation: “to write a text and claim that it is ‘true’ or ‘factual’ can be seen as a particular practice of power, a power that claims that the researcher has the ability to unequivocally access and represent reality” (Rhodes & Brown, 2005, p. 477). People that are studied by a researcher could think his results are not in line with their ideas, but the subject can make the claim that he followed the right methods and is therefore not to be blamed for something he merely determined: “the ‘frightful’ claim that one does not need to take responsibility for what one writes because it is the ‘truth’, or the ‘meaning’ for which one is merely a communicative conduit or interpreter” (Rhodes & Brown, 2005, p. 479-480).
In contrast, from a relational constructionist perspective the researcher does not have power over the object as he does not try to represent the object. Instead, the self-other relationship is characterized by openness. One does not try to put the other in a premade framework, but tries to value “the “otherness” of the other” (Deetz, 2000, p. 133). The idea is that knowledge is constructed via relations: only together people can decide on what is true for them and what their local rationality is. It does not make sense to go in as an outsider, see what happens and then judge this from some theoretical standards as this will not result in knowledge about what is really going on. This changed self-other relationship results in a completely different power-balance. The self and the other are more equal and while the self first had power over the other, he now gives power to the other by being open to new rationalities. (Van der Haar & Hosking, 2004)
If you want to know more about this, I recommend the articles of Mead (2002), McNamee (2006) and Parent & Béliveau (2007). These offer good illustrations of the changing self-other relationship and power balance in a relational constructionist perspective. In his collaborative study on leadership, Mead (2002) explicitly positioned himself as a co-inquirer, not trying to impose his view or questions on the group. Moreover, he tried to create a safe environment in which people, apart from their hierarchical status, could say whatever they felt and wanted to share.
In her study of the curriculum and working style of a university department, McNamee (2006) also tried to make clear that her role as a researcher was different than what is normally expected: “During this introduction, I explained that my intention was not to evaluate their program and working style from my perspective but rather to invite them into a conversation with me about how best to evaluate their program and their working style as a group.” (p. 214).
As mentioned earlier, Parent & Béliveau (2007) describe the value and use of a learning history as a method to foster organizational learning. They argue that one of the qualities of a learning history is that it provides room for the feelings of everyone and “it shows them that their views count” (Parent & Béliveau, 2007, p. 75). The fact that their quotes are in the learning history document and that the interpretation of the researcher is also open for discussion, makes that a learning history is characterized by an equal power balance, instead of a researcher that has power over his object of study.